Send us boiler suits, plead NHS bosses at hospitals with no gowns, including Devon

Revision 30 April 2020. The Devon Clinical Commissioning group have pointed out that the use of the phrase “no gowns” in the title (taken from an early edition of the Sunday Times, later revised) is inaccurate. The call for substitutes for gowns was a precautionary advertisement. Stocks have now improved and none of the advertised items has been issued to NHS staff.

In Devon, the request for alternatives to gowns included boiler suits, lab suits and painting suits in a tender notice titled, “Urgent help needed re provision of PPE for NHS staff.”

Rosamund Urwin, Andrew Gregory and Caroline Wheeler –The Sunday Times April 26 2020

The call came as the severity of the shortage of gowns, masks and gloves was laid bare to the cabinet in a 90-day forecast for the government by the consultancy firm McKinsey.

In Devon, the request for alternatives to gowns included boiler suits, lab suits and painting suits in a tender notice titled, “Urgent help needed re provision of PPE for NHS staff.”

Fears have been raised not only over the quantity of PPE but the quality. “Every day we run out of something, the advice is downgraded and we are now running at standards lower than [recommended by] the International Red Cross and the World Health Organisation,” said a senior Whitehall insider.

“We have always been so smug about ourselves as a developed country, but now we have nations we send aid to watching us in horror.”

An NHS employee, who works on procurement, said: “The government has said that the CE mark [indicating conformity with safety standards within the European Economic Area] can be waived so we can get stuff from other countries or that’s made locally.

“The doctors on the front line don’t have time to check the medical journals to ensure that what they are being provided with is safe.”

Of particular concern were visors, because many 3D-printed designs had gaps that would allow aerosols and splashback to enter and put the medic at risk. More than 100 NHS and care workers are estimated to have died after contracting the disease, according to data collected by the online platform NursingNotes. NHS staff have repeatedly raised concerns about supplies.

Two NHS doctors are mounting a formal legal challenge to the government’s PPE guidelines. Meenal Viz, who is pregnant, and her husband Nishant Joshi, have treated patients with Covid-19, and argue that the government’s guidance is not protecting frontline staff.

Joshi said: “Matt Hancock said [on Friday] that the guidelines are based on the use of our ‘precious resources’. That admits the government is basing its guidelines on supply, not safety. It raises the question: has the government knowingly exposed healthcare workers to potential risk?”

Doctors and nurses have been asked to reuse gear that is usually single-use, and to wear flimsy plastic aprons instead of full-length gowns that had run out.

The NHS uses an estimated 150,000 gowns every day. Public Health England had previously said that the gowns should be worn for all high-risk procedures.

According to data collected by the Doctors’ Association UK, hundreds of doctors have gone without masks, eye protection and gowns, including medics carrying out aerosol-generating procedures that present a greater risk of catching the virus.

The survey of 1,197 doctors by the app, launched to report shortages, found that 38% who responded over a fortnight were without eye protection, including 23% of doctors carrying out aerosol-generating procedures.

The Doctors’ Association UK is calling for a public inquiry into the government’s failure to provide PPE.

Vanessa Crossey, interim deputy director of nursing at NHS Devon CCG, said: “We are leaving no stone unturned in our work to bolster national PPE supplies for our NHS and care staff”
The department of health and social care said: “Ware working night and day to ensure our frontline health and social care staff have the equipment they need to tackle this virus.”